Where’s the sea ice? 3 reasons the Arctic freeze is unseasonably late and why it matters

8 mins read

Mark Serreze, University of Colorado Boulder

With the setting of the solar and the onset of polar darkness, the Arctic Ocean would usually be crusted with sea ice alongside the Siberian coast by now. But this 12 months, the water is nonetheless open.

I’ve watched the area’s transformations since the Nineteen Eighties as an Arctic local weather scientist and, since 2008, as director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. I can let you know, this is not regular. There’s a lot extra warmth in the ocean now than there was that the sample of autumn ice progress has been utterly disrupted.

To perceive what’s taking place to the sea ice this 12 months and why it’s an issue, let’s look again at the summer time and into the Arctic Ocean itself.

Siberia’s 100-degree summer time

The summer time soften season in the Arctic began early. A Siberian heat wave in June pushed air temperatures over 100 levels Fahrenheit at Verkhoyansk, Russia, for the first time on report, and uncommon warmth prolonged over a lot of the Arctic for weeks.

The Arctic as a complete this previous summer time was at its warmest since at least 1979, when satellite tv for pc measurements began offering knowledge permitting for full protection of the Arctic.

With that warmth, massive areas of sea ice melted out early, and that melting launched a suggestions course of: The lack of reflective sea ice uncovered darkish open ocean, which readily absorbs the solar’s warmth, selling much more ice soften.

The Northern Sea Route, alongside the Russian coast, was basically free of ice by the middle of July. That could also be a dream for transport pursuits, however it’s dangerous information for the remainder of the planet.

Warmth sneaks in underwater

The heat summer time is solely a part of the clarification for this 12 months’s uncommon sea ice ranges.

Streams of hotter water from the Atlantic Ocean circulation into the Arctic at the Barents Sea. This hotter, saltier Atlantic water is normally pretty deep beneath the extra buoyant Arctic water at the floor. Lately, nonetheless, the Atlantic water has been creeping up. That warmth in the Atlantic water is serving to to maintain ice from forming and melting existing sea ice from below.

It’s a course of referred to as “Atlantification”. The ice is now getting hit each from the high by a warming environment and at the backside by a warming ocean. It’s an actual double whammy.

While we’re nonetheless attempting to meet up with all of the processes resulting in Atlantification, it’s right here and it’s more likely to get stronger. https://www.youtube.com/embed/C17-Z_sl5cI?wmode=transparent&start=0

Climate change’s assault on sea ice

In the background of all of this is world local weather change.

The Arctic sea ice extent and thickness have been dropping for many years as global temperatures rise. This 12 months, when the ice reached its minimal extent in September, it was the second lowest on report, simply behind that of 2012.

As the Arctic loses ice and the ocean absorbs extra photo voltaic radiation, global warming is amplified. That can have an effect on ocean circulation, weather patterns and Arctic ecosystems spanning the meals chain, from phytoplankton all the technique to high predators.

On the Atlantic facet of the Arctic, open water this 12 months prolonged to inside 5 levels of the North Pole. The new Russian Icebreaker Arktika, on its maiden voyage, discovered simple crusing all the technique to the North Pole. A purpose of its voyage was to check how the nuclear-powered ship dealt with thick ice, however as a substitute of the hoped-for 3-meter-thick ice, most of the ice was in a free pack. It was little greater than 1 meter thick, offering little resistance.

For sea ice to construct up once more this 12 months, the higher layer of the Arctic Ocean must lose the extra warmth it picked up throughout summer time.

The sample of regional anomalies in ice extent is totally different every year, reflecting influences like regional patterns of temperature and winds. But in the present day, it’s superimposed on the general thinning of the ice as world temperatures rise. Had the identical atmospheric patterns driving this 12 months’s huge ice loss off Siberia occurred 30 years in the past, the affect would have been a lot much less, as the ice was extra resilient then and might have taken a punch. Now it can’t.

Is sea ice headed for a tipping level?

The decay of the Arctic sea ice cowl shows no sign of stopping. There most likely gained’t be a transparent tipping level for the sea ice, although.

Research to date suggests we’ll keep on the present path, with the quantity of ice declining and climate programs extra simply disrupting the ice as a result of it’s thinner and weaker than it was. https://www.youtube.com/embed/vtM9KTVGFVw?wmode=transparent&start=0

The greater image

This 12 months’s occasions in the Arctic are simply a part of the local weather change story of 2020.

Global common temperatures have been at or close to report highs since January. The West has been each scorching and dry – the good recipe for massive wildfires – and heat water in the Gulf of Mexico has (*3*) in the Atlantic than there are letters in the alphabet. If you’ve been ignoring local weather change and hoping that it will simply go away, now can be an applicable time to concentrate.

Mark Serreze, Research Professor of Geography and Director, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation beneath a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.