Sunday, May 22, 2016

Arctic Heat And Melting Ice Just Keep Getting Worse And Worse

Click on this chart to make it bigger and easier
to see. The black line is the trend in
Arctic sea ic this year. The red line represents
the record low year of 2012. The gray shading
is pretty much the longterm average 
It seems every time we glimpse up toward the Arctic this year, things just keep getting more and more dire.

The ice is melting faster and earlier than ever before as the increasing warmth of spring grinds on. Temperatures are staying way above normal and are forecast to continue doing so.

Worse, strong, warm high pressure is parked over parts of the high Arctic, which means lots of toasty sunshine to accelerate ice melt.

I know what you're thinking. Who cares about a balmy Arctic spring?

My reply is the same as I've offered before. A warm, melting Arctic can screw up your life. Yes, the life you lead thousands of miles south of the Arctic.

First of all, the less ice there is, the less heat gets reflected back to space. Less ice means the oceans and earth can absorb more heat, worsening global warming.

This is known as positive feedback. Global warming melts ice. The lack of ice makes global warming worse. That melts even more ice. And so on and so on.

The Arctic melt also screws up coastal cities over the long term. The ice melting in the Arctic Ocean isn't that big a deal when thinking of sea level rise. It's like an ice cube melting in a glass. The glass won't overflow when the ice melts.

However, the ice melting off Greenland IS a big deal. That is like a melting ice cube held above the glass of water. Eventually the dripping of water from the melting ice cube into the glass will make that glass overflow.

Water flowing off Greenland from the excessive melts are slowly making the world's oceans "overflow"

On top of that, the jet stream depends largely on a sharp temperature contrast between the equatorial regions and the poles. The jet stream controls the strength, position and movement of most storms and areas of fair weather high pressure - the weather in general.

The Arctic is warming up much more rapidly than places near the Equator. That means there's less of a temperature contrast. Which could mean a weaker or weirder jet stream. Whichwould make weather systems or patterns get "stuck" in place more often.

That, in turn, would lead to longer and more intense heat waves, droughts, floods or even cold waves, depending on where and how the jet stream gets "stuck."

So yeah, worry about a warming Arctic.

Here are some recent details of what's going on up there:


Researchers with NOAA said Barrow, on Alaska's northern tip, had by far its earliest date at which the snow cover melted away in the spring.

The snow was gone at Barrow by May 13, a full 10 days earlier than the previous record.

Meanwhile, the town of Longyearbyen, in the northern tip of Norway - the northernmost civilian community in the world, has had only one cooler than average day so far this year, which is unheard of, notes Bob Henson in a recent Weather Underground post. 

Also, as I noted previously, parts of Greenland in April had its earliest thaw on record. Ominously, there have been more thaws since. We'll see if Greenland has a hot (for them) summer. It would be bad if they did.

(See sea level rise, above)


Arctic sea ice is still melting at a record fast pace this spring, as Bob Henson notes in his Weather Underground blog.

The melt is so far going at a far faster pace than the record 2012 melt.

Satellite pictures are showing major cracks and openings in Arctic ice. These cracks, called leads, always happen later during the summer in the Arctic, but never in May.;

Until this year.

"It looks like late June or early July right now," says David Douglas, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey

Scientists are marveling - not in a good way -- about the melting ice.

"We're in record breaking territory no matter how you look at it," Jennifer Francis told the Washington Post recently.

Francis, an Arctic specialist at Rutgers University, studies how changes in the Arctic affect weather patterns in the mid-latitudes were most of us live.

"The ice is really low, the temperatures are really high, the fire seasons have started early," Francis said.

Wildlife such as polar bears and walruses are suffering, too. They need ice to hunt for food, and it's literally disappearing under their feet.

Though things are off to an ominous start, there's no guarantee this year will break a record for least Arctic ice. If it's relatively cloudy in the Arctic during June and July, and if air and ocean circulation patterns assist in pushing ice toward somewhat lower latitudes,  the Arctic sea ice melt might slow down dramatically, as Henson notes. 


Remember that big wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada at the beginning of this month?

Well, it's still burning, big time, with no signs of containment. Most of the fire has moved away from Fort McMurray, but it now covers an area bigger than Rhode Island and is moving into neighboring provinces.  

The fire probably won't go out until the snow flies in the autumn.
Global warming might have contributed tot he giant
Fort McMurray fire in Canada. The fire, in turn, might
help make global warming a little worse.  

This is bad for a lot of reasons, besides the fact that a bunch of trees just went up in smoke and more are going every day.

We've seen smoke from this fire a couple times this month now all the way down here in Vermont. It makes the sky hazy,

That's soot. It's not great for the lungs. But worse, the wind sometimes blows the soot over and onto the Arctic Ocean and onto the Greenland ice cap.

The soot particles are dark, and when they settle on ice, the dark soot attracts the sun's heat, accelerating melting. If the ice had stayed white, a lot of the sun's heat would have been reflected back into space, so the melting would be slower.

Also, the Fort McMurray fire is burning through boreal forests that have permafrost under the soil's surface.

Normally, the forests and vegetation shade the permafrost, so it stays, well, frosty.  The fires get rid of that protective vegetation and leave charred black stuff in its wake.

That means the sun can get down and melt the permafrost. When that happens, tons of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, gets released into the air, worsening global warming.

More positive feedback, like that ice melting in the Arctic Ocean.

So yeah, I hope the few people that live in the Arctic regions are enjoying their warm year. They're probably not. They're worried instead.

We down here in the "South" should be worried, too.

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