Saturday, January 28, 2017

The State of Arctic Warming and Melting Ice in 2016 (Videos)

The trend of warmer Arctic temperatures and melting Arctic ice appears to be worsening. Less ice means more global warming. Last year was the warmest year on record replacing 2015. We saw a number of extreme weather events in 2016 and ongoing evidence of the global warming trend, particularly in the Arctic.

A WMO report presented at COP22 at the end of 2016 indicates that in recent years parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3°C above average. The global average temperature increase is around 1.5°C above average.

The report also revealed a cascade of related phenomena including sea level rise associated with rapidly melting polar ice. Over the past five years, Arctic sea ice is 28 percent below the average of the previous 29 years. The impact from this melting trend is not only rising sea levels it is also decreasing global cooling from the ice associated with the albedo effect (light or radiation that is reflected by a surface). Simply put, less ice means more warming.

Arctic ice reached its equal second-lowest extent in the satellite record in September 2016 and in the fall of 2016 the Arctic was very hot and the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean was at a record low. The ice was also slower to freeze in the fall of 2016 and it is much thinner than normal.

While the winter, spring, and summer were abnormally warm in the Arctic, the departure from the mean increased in October, November, and December.

In November, Arctic ice normally increases, however, over a period of five days it saw 19,000 square miles of ice cover melt away. NOAA said this was very unusual and almost without precedent. In November Arctic temperatures were 18 degrees warmer than normal. The abnormally warm Arctic was partly responsible for second-warmest November global temperatures on record.

Richard James, a meteorologist who is also the author of a blog on Alaska weather, analyzed 19 weather stations surrounding the Arctic Ocean and found that the average temperature was about 2 C (4F) above the record set in 1998. Since November, temperatures have risen even higher. "It is amazing to see that the warmth has become even more pronounced since the end of October," James wrote on his blog. Towards the end of last year, Arctic temperatures were about 20°C (36 F) higher than normal above 80 degrees North Latitude despite the onset of the polar night.

"Despite onset of #PolarNight, temperatures near #NorthPole increasing. Extraordinary situation right now in #Arctic, w/record low #seaice," Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA posted to Twitter.

As reported by NASA, a large hot cyclone that crossed the Arctic in December 2015 thinned and shrunk the sea ice cover during a time of the year when the ice should have been growing thicker and stronger.

This phenomenon repeated in December 2016. As reported by the Washington Post, Arctic expert, James Overland with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration {NOAA), said that the jet stream transported warmth northward into the Arctic. This is highly abnormal in terms of both persistence and magnitude.

As reported in Slate, much warmer than usual temperatures have dominated the Arctic at the end of 2015 and into 2016. "[T]he northernmost permanent settlement, Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, has averaged 10 degrees C (18 degrees F) above normal this winter, with temperatures rising above the freezing mark on nearly two dozen days since Dec. 1. That kind of extremely unusual weather has prompted a record-setting low maximum in Arctic sea ice, especially in the Barents Sea area north of Europe."

Writing on his blog, former NASA scientist Roy Spencer said that February 2016 featured “whopping” temperature anomalies especially in the Arctic.

In a Huffington Postarticle, Michael Mann said that February stands out for its record-setting heat particularly in the NortherHemispherere.

"For the first time on record, we crossed the 2 degrees C ‘dangerous’ level of warming (for the Northern Hemisphere, the best-measured part of the globe)...It is unlikely we will see this anomalous warmth sustained for the remainder of the year, but it is a reminder of how perilously close we are now to permanent dangerous levels of warmth. It is yet another warning of the urgency of reducing global carbon emissions."

According to Mashable , February’s warmth was especially pronounced in the north. The Arctic saw record low sea ice and temperatures that were about 6 degrees C (almost 11 degrees F) above normal.

Mark Serreze, who heads the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., agreed that something odd is going on. Both air and water temperatures unusually warm. "There are some areas in the Arctic Ocean that are as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit above average now," Serreze said in December. "It’s pretty crazy...The sea ice is at a record low right now, for this time of year, that’s one thing," Serreze said. "And why it’s so low — again, there’s so much heat in the upper ocean in these ice-free areas, the ice just can’t form right now. The ocean’s just got to get rid of this heat somehow, and it’s having a hard time doing so."

Another Washington Post article said, "it’s premature to say if these events are becoming more frequent, the intensity of the warm air reaching the Arctic is almost certainly increasing. "

“[T]he warmest midwinter temperatures at the North Pole have been increasing at a rate that is twice as large as that for mean midwinter temperatures at the pole,” a Nature study published in mid-December 2016 said. “It is argued that this enhanced trend is consistent with the loss of winter sea ice from the Nordic Seas that moves the reservoir of warm air over this region northwards".

The trend is unmistakable. A study by National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA researchers revealed that the length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade, and an earlier start to the melt season is allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation in some places to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap's thickness.

A Yale 360 article by Peter Wadhams indicates that melting sea ice is "triggering a cascade of effects that will amplify global warming and could destabilize the global climate system." Wadhams continued, "The planet is swiftly heading toward a largely ice-free Arctic in the warmer months, possibly as early as 2020."

Wadhams is a scientist who specializes in Arctic sea ice, he is professor emeritus of ocean physics at Cambridge University.  Wadhams says that over his 46-year career as a scientist he has observed the thickness and extent of Arctic sea ice shrink by 50 percent since the early 1970s. Even steeper declines (75 percent) in volume have been observed. Wadhams explains that there are global feedback effects associated with the arctic ice "death spiral":

"The great white cap that once covered the top of the world is now turning blue [changing the region's albedo causing only 10 percent of solar radiation to be reflected back into space compared to 50 percent when the surface is covered with ice.]— a change that represents humanity’s most dramatic step in reshaping the face of our planet. And with the steady disappearance of the polar ice cover, we are losing a vast air conditioning system that has helped regulate and stabilize earth’s climate system for thousands of years."

Arctic waters have been generally below zero for tens of thousands of years in the summer. With much less ice in the warmest months, Arctic ocean temperatures have risen as much as 7 F in some places. Now rather than cooling the Earth the Arctic is contributing to global heating.

According to one recent study, a warm Arctic is responsible for 25 percent of global warming.  Together these impacts are driving global warming. As explained by Wadhams, "overall ice/snow albedo effect in the Arctic could add as much as 50 percent to the direct global heating effect of CO2."

There are a number of complex feedback loops at play. Lower levels of sea ice increase ocean temperatures and warmer sea melt even more ice. declining sea ice creates another feedback loop. Less sea ice cover east of the Nordic Sea helps create a passageway for warm air. Other feedback loops affecting the Arctic include more waves that further dismantles ice, warmer terrestrial temperatures that increase the albedo effect on land and water runoff from the warming land or melting ice. Other feedback loops include water vapor, the slowing of the global ocean conveyor belt and major shifts in the northern hemisphere’s jet stream.

Wadhams says the most dangerous feedback loop is methane trapped in ice on the floor of the Arctic Ocean. Methane traps heat in the atmosphere 23 times more efficiently per molecule than carbon dioxide. More than five years ago Russian scientists had already documented methane seeping from Arctic ice.

"These changes represent a spiritual impoverishment of the earth, as well as a catastrophe for humanity" Wadhams said. This is a wake-up call Wadhams concluded, "the time for action has long since passed."

Maybe part of the problem is that people just don't relate to the Arctic on a personal level.  With that in mind here is a historic performance in the middle of the Arctic Ocean by acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi. Described by Paul Hawkins as, "without question, the best video ever made on climate change."

"I've been about to see the purity and fragileness of this area with my own eyes and perform a song that I composed on the best stage in the world," Einaudi said. "It is important that we understand the importance of the Arctic, [and] stop its process and protect it." Einaudi is one of eight million people from across the world demanding protection for the Arctic.

Rising CO2 Emissions and Ongoing Heat Records Especially in the Arctic
Arctic Sea Ice is Disappearing
Arctic Warming Feedback Loops: Algae Blooms and Thawing Permafrost

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