Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hot Arctic Winter Raises Questions About Sea Ice Extent This Summer, And Global Warming

This chart shows how the Arctic ice extent has been decreasing
each January since reliable records began in 1979. Click on
the chart to make it bigger and easier to read.  
Last week I remarked at how odd it was at my northwestern Vermont house that in early February,  there was no snow on the ground, and I was digging up unfrozen soil to prepare a garden.

I'd never seen or done anything like that before.  

Well, it's just as odd up in the Arctic this winter.

Yeah, it's cold up there, but not nearly as cold as it usually is.  That Arctic warmth is the latest sign that Earth's climate is going off the rails. It's heating up, and we can't just blame El Nino.

The Arctic sea ice extent so far is running at record low levels for early February, thanks to an insanely warm Arctic winter so far.

Of course by warm winter in the Arctic, I still means it's frigid, but not nearly as frigid as it usually is.

There were 5.2 million square miles of ice covering the Arctic as of early February, which sounds like a lot. But that sets a new record for the least coverage on record this time of year.

Writing for Weather Underground, Bob Henson said the average January temperature between the latitude of 60 degrees north and the North Pole was just shy of one degree below zero.

Again, that's cold, but not even close to the previous record for warmest Arctic January, which was 5.1 degrees below zero in 2005.

Just to be clear, the Arctic is still fully capable of blasting us down here in the mid-latitudes with cold. In the next several days, the Northeast is expected to get its sharpest, coldest blast of Arctic air so far this winter.

Still, with the relative lack of winter cold, you can see why the Arctic didn't freeze up as much as usual.

Of course, the big question is what, if any effect the low level of ice in the Arctic now will have when the ice extent reaches its annual minimum around early September.

That's more significant, because the less ice there is in the summer, the more of a "positive feedback" loop you get with climate change.

Ice is mostly white, and reflects warm sunlight back to outer space. But the darker blue open water absorbs sunlight, heating the water more than if were ice covered. That would help continue the trend toward less and less ice, opening the Arctic ocean to more heat absorbing open water, etc. etc.

That's been a real trend, but it's been an uneven one.  Who know what this summer will be like? If it's cloudier and cooler up in the Arctic this summer than recent warm seasons, the ice won't melt so much and we won't get a record low sea ice extent, like we got in 2012.

Or, as Henson points out, it's nice and sunny and weather patterns favor winds coming from the south toward the Arctic then they wiil be a lot of melting.


One area that is in, or at least near the Arctic is, of course, Alaska, and they're not exactly buried in snow.

Fairbansk did manage to have a fair amount of snow way back in September and October, but since then. practically nothing. Fairbanks only had 1.9 inches of snow between December 1 and February 1, the least for that period on record.

Fairbanks did manage to get 50 inches of snow between September 1 and November 30, making that period the fifth snowiest on record. But still, snowfall is below normal.

And temperatures are way above normal. Alaska had its fifth warmest January on record. February is off to a warm start, too, at least by Alaska standards, with temperatures running about five degrees warmer than normal.

High temperatures in Fairbanks for next week are forecast to be in the 20s, which is about 15 degrees above average.

A tropical vacation to Alaska, perhaps?

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