Friday, May 13, 2016

Arctic Sea Ice gone by September 2016?

Arctic sea ice extent is very low, much lower than it was in other years at this time of year. On May 11, 2016, Arctic sea ice extent was 12.328 million square km, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), while JAXA's figure for extent on May 11, 2016, was only 11.57 million square km.

[ based in image from JAXA ]
JAXA figures show that Arctic sea ice extent on May 9, 2016, was 11.68 million square km, more than 18 days ahead on 2012 and 1.1 million square km smaller than it was on May 9, 2012.

The image on the right compares the Beaufort Sea and the northern part of Alaska between May 9, 2012 and May 9, 2016. As the image illustrates, there now is a lot less ice and snow cover than there was on 2012.

The situation looks set to deteriorate further over the coming months. The image below shows temperature forecast to reach anomalies as high as 5.19°C or 9.34°F for the Arctic as a whole (forecast for May 19, 2016, 0300 UTC), with temperature anomalies at the top end of the scale forecast for Alaska and eastern Siberia.

These temperature anomalies go hand in hand with a very wavy jet stream, as illustrated by the image on the right, showing loops extending all the way over the Arctic Ocean (in particular over the Beaufort Sea), taking along warm air in their path.

At the same time, the jet stream can extend far south at other places, making that cold air is moving south, out of the Arctic.

The result is a rapidly warming Arctic, which in turn makes the jet stream even more wavier, as one out of numerous feedbacks that are all  hitting the Arctic at the same time.

The image below compares sea ice thickness between May 13, 2012, and May 13, 2016.

The image on the right shows that sea surface temperatures near Svalbard were as high as 55°F (12.8°C) on May 11, 2016, an anomaly of 21.2°F (11.8°C) from 1981-2011. In other words, the temperature of the sea surface was 1°C in that spot from 1981 to 2011, and now this spot is 11.8°C warmer.

The image below compares sea surface temperature anomalies from 1961-1990 between May 12, 2015, and May 12, 2016.

Sea surface temperatures in the Arctic Ocean are higher than they used to be, in particular in the Bering Strait, the Beaufort Sea, in Baffin Bay and the Kara Sea.

[ click on images to enlarge ]
In summary, Arctic sea ice is in a very bad shape, while ocean heat is very high and rising. Greenhouse gas levels are at record high levels, as discussed in an earlier post and as further illustrated by the image below.

The image below shows that, over the past 365 days, warming over the Arctic have been much stronger than over the rest of the world. Air temperature anomalies of more than 2.5°C (4.5°F) show up over most of the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, as discussed above, high temperatures are forecast to hit the Arctic over the next week.

From November 2015 to April 2016, global temperatures over land and oceans were 1.48°C (or 2.664°F) higher than in 1890-1910 (left map of the image below). On land, it was 1.99°C (or 3.582°F) warmer (right map of the image below).
[ also see comments ]
Since some 0.3°C (0.54°F) greenhouse warming had already taken place by the year 1900, warming was well above the 1.5°C (or 2.7°F) guardrail the Paris Agreement had pledged wouldn't be crossed.

Given the above, chances are that the sea ice will be largely gone by September 2016.

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.


  1. The Climate Plan calls for comprehensive action through multiple lines of action implemented across the world and in parallel, through effective policies such as local feebates. The Climate Plan calls for a global commitment to act, combined with implementation that is preferably local. In other words, while the Climate Plan calls for a global commitment to take comprehensive and effective action to reduce the danger of catastrophic climate change, and while it recommends specific policies and approaches how best to achieve this, it invites local communities to decide what each works best for them, provided they do indeed make the progress necessary to reach agreed targets. This makes that the Climate Plan optimizes flexibility for local communities and optimizes local job and investment opportunities.

  2. You might want to correct this Sam
    "The image below shows that, over the past 365 days, air temperatures over the Arctic much higher than the rest of the world"
    The Arctic hasn't warmed up that much... yet.
    Have a nice day


    1. Yeah, I've meanwhile changed it. I was still working on it when posting the first version, I still wanted to add the temperature anomaly in Fahrenheit as well. Thanks for letting me know.

  3. How to explain this:
    - May 9 : 11.683 millions km2
    - May 11 : 12.328 millions km2

    Different data sources or recovery between May 9 and 11?

    1. Yeah, there're using different satellites. Tamino recently discussed this here and here.

  4. I'm gonna be pretty simplistic (that's why 9 in 10 of my comments don't get published and that's why I rarely try to post at this blog anymore) but the last two great anomalies (2007 and 2012) had a 1.3 and .9 differential against their previous years. Assuming that 2016 is a world-breaker in terms of climate warming and that we need to give a good thrust to that previous worst-case scenarios my bet would be 1.6 to 1.9 less square million kilometers. Being the average of that 1.75 I would just shave a tad .05 to that and put my green in a round 1.7 from the previous year minimum, ending up with a 2.663 result. That would still be a record minimum, and a record minimum by the largest margin compared to the previous minimum.

    The best metric to determine a year without sea ice in the Arctic will be a measurable release of methane from the soviet tundra. The moment that methane plumes become columns, there won't be any sea ice anymore in the Arctic.