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Discussion > Arctic sea ice loss

Google "Arctic sea ice" and be dumbfounded. How are we to view such compelling evidence with other than deep pessimism?

Feb 16, 2013 at 5:25 AM | Unregistered Commentersimon abingdon

Don't forget we only have records since 1979, but we do have temperture records from 1958, so I suspect rather than getting depressed I'd have a look at the temperature records to see if the Arctic has warmed over the period:

It doesn't look as though it has to me, but statisticians may find something in those records.

Then I'd look for historical evidence, there two reported periods when there was no, or little ice, north of 80 degrees, in the early 18th Century the Royal Navy reported the lack of ice there, and in 1922 there were reports of lack of ice above 80 degrees. Amundsen is also said to have sailed the North West Passage, and of course the Vikings and the Chinese were able to sail through the Arctic. So it's too early to jump to any conclusions, and you might want to remind yourself that the Antarctic Sea Ice is at record high levels.

Feb 16, 2013 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

just looked at a cnet graphs display where they show ice in deep blue color and open ocean and land in light grey.

Propaganda of the lowest order

Feb 16, 2013 at 3:12 PM | Registered Commentershub

When something gets lost I usually think back to when I last had it and work from there. Hope this helps.

Feb 16, 2013 at 3:53 PM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Thanks geronimo, your is most interesting. Since 1958 until now it seems to show with unfailing consistency Arctic temperatures of 0degC at the beginning of June rising to about 1degC mid-July then falling to 0degC again at the end of August with sub-zero temperatures the rest of the year. There are many temperature spikes above and below the climate (green) line during these last 54 years but they are all in the autumn/winter/spring periods when temperatures are well below zero.

I cannot reconcile this supposed BAU with (for example) which asserts that "The Arctic Sea is experiencing rapid ice loss at a pace so fast that the area will soon be ice-free in warmer months, ... showing a collapse in total sea ice volume to one fifth of its level in 1980.

So if the Arctic hasn't warmed (significantly) since 1980 (since 1958 even), what has made 80% of Arctic sea-ice volume disappear in strongly sub-zero temperatures every September to May since then? Perhaps someone can explain.

Cheers, simon

Feb 16, 2013 at 4:07 PM | Unregistered Commentersimon abingdon

Simon, if you have any doubt that arctic sea ice really is disappearing, take a look at this video showing the sea ice age. Watch from 14minutes to see how older ice gradually declines. After watching it you will have no further doubts.

I don't know where the measurements for the plots geronimo posted came from, but it seems likely that they were air temperatures above (but close to) ice or water. This location must affect the chances of the measured temperature going very much above freezing point. Note also that the temperature of water containing ice will remain around the freezing point even as the ice melts.

Feb 16, 2013 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

BB, the temperature scale on the Arctic records to which geronimo refers runs from 235K to 280K. Perhaps you can tell us how such temperatures are measured. In the meantime you suggest that I will have no further doubts after watching a video! This was presumably made by time-lapse photography from a satellite-mounted camera. Or maybe not.

My last sentence said "Perhaps someone can explain" (where 80% of the ice has gone in the face of sub-zero temperatures). I'm waiting for a convincing explanation.

Cheers, simon

Feb 17, 2013 at 8:26 AM | Unregistered Commentersimon abingdon

No doubt about it Simon, the ice is disappearing from the Arctic, which to the rabidistas is "terrible", while the concomitant record sea ice in the Antarctic isn't mentioned.What it cannot be is temperature, which you can see for yourself has been pretty stable for over 60 years. Nor does anyone have the faintest idea of what the effects of the melting sea ice will be, Although the rabidistas will try to frighten you with their ghost stories, it could well be totally beneficial, there's not a shred of evidence that the melts in the recent past had any effects whatsoever.

Feb 17, 2013 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Arctic sea ice is mobile. It is sea ice. Sea ice area is a function (among other things) of wind speed and direction. When storms push the ice from the Arctic Ocean into the Atlantic it disperses and melts. It's not a function of climate, rather one of weather.

Record low Arctic sea is not a function of temperature alone. Multi-decadal oscillations are are good place to start.

Feb 17, 2013 at 10:53 AM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

I sometimes wonder if at the coldest part of the LIA, the Arctic was one big block. At the least it would have had large stretches of ice well upwards of 5m thick. How thick could it have reached? The bigger and thicker the blocks, the less movement within the Arctic Basin and almost no flow out of the Arctic through the Fram Straight. At some point, long before CO2 was an issue, the ice began to melt and separate. All through the last century it declined. We know this is the case because there are newspaper articles woven through the last hundred or so years documenting it. There’s even a claim that the Artic would be ice free as soon as 2000 that dates back to May 1972, a time when most people considered the Arctic to be growing. The ice charts show some of the changes but the decline in thickness wasn’t as apparent. Like bubbles in a bath, as the ice melted in one place it flowed in from another to fill the gap. Thus preserving the impression the ice was the same quantity as before.

Once the ice was mobile it flowed easily out of the Arctic Basin. You can watch this happen in some of the Arctic ice animations. It happens all year round now, where in the past it may have been only a feature of the late summer. A large ice extent in winter is not necessary a sign of growing ice because it can also mean a fast flow out of the Fram Straight, causing a high body of ice to form along the Greenland east coast. Any ice that ends up outside the Arctic will melt. It always did melt and if it stops we’ll be heading into an ice age.

By 2007 there wasn’t much fast ice left, weren’t many ice shelves, the Canadian Archipelago was opening, and ice wasn’t freezing enough in winter to anchor the ice to the islands within the Arctic. The Arctic is now a sieve with ice escaping in all directions. Each year it is a competition between what can form and what escapes or melts. The wind plays a huge part in this and this winter, the ice was still pouring out of the Arctic as new ice was forming and giving the impression that the ice was growing. The area grew but the volume may have even declined. More recently the winds changed and the ice started flowing in a clockwise direction within the Arctic, helping to prevent the ice flooding out of the Fram Straight. In the last two weeks the winds have changed again.

Current conditions may be ahead of natural schedule but by how much? Once the ice is free flowing all year round, how much ice is normal for the Arctic? What wind patterns should we expect for current conditions? How much is affected by the Atlantic and Pacific phases or the solar state? It’s annoying to have the current natural world continually measured against the anomalously cold period that was the LIA and found to be frighteningly different.

Feb 17, 2013 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

If you do an internet search for "submarine north pole" you will see that open water at the North Pole is neither unusual nor unprecedented. These photographs of submarines in open water at the Pole were taken at intervals of approximately 30 years and it would appear that no surfacings at the Pole occurred in the intervening periods.




Feb 17, 2013 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterScottie

Feb 17, 2013 at 11:02 AM | TinyCO2

"I sometimes wonder if at the coldest part of the LIA, the Arctic was one big block..."

Not really related, but does anyone know why about 90% of the ocean is at a temperatuure oof 3-4 degrees, seeing how the average atmospheric temperature has been around 15 degrees since the end of the last glaciation about 20,000 years ago.

I assume the temperature is due to the bulk of the deep ocean originating from downwelling cold water in the Arctic and very little heat exchange within the ocean itself at depth. But is the 4 degree ocean temperature in equilibrium with a constant 15 degree average atmosphere??(and I assume the surface ocean is close to this temperature on average). I would expect eventually the deep ocean to increase to somewhere near the surface temperature though I can see it taking it a very long time.

Do the models show this as an equilibrium temperature too or is there a long term energy exchange into the deep ocean coincident with the 'missing heat' used to explain lack of recent warming?

Feb 17, 2013 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

PS By big block I mean horizontally, not vertically. What is the maximum depth? An equation involving water depth, water temperature, air temperature and the insulating qualities of the ice. Would any of the outlets of the Arctic have frozen to the sea bed? The Canadian Archipelago?

Feb 17, 2013 at 12:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Simon: @the temperature scale ... runs from 235K to 280K. Perhaps you can tell us how such temperatures are measured." Is that a rhetorical question? Do you think a thermometer would do the job (lookup Alcohol Thermometer)? But if you read the blurb on the web page you will see that the ERA-40 temperatures are calculated by a model. It is nice to find a model that skeptics can rely upon.

Did you watch the video? TinyCO2 refers to it (or similar) above also, so you needn't take my unreliable word for it; it shows you exactly where the ice goes - it melts, breaks-up and flows out of the Fram Strait. And it no longer gets replaced in winter. Maybe you should consider that the volume of ice depends not just upon the maximum modelled temperatures (the peaks you are so interested in) but the average temperate throughout the year, the variations around the Arctic, the water temperature, etc.

On the Antarctic not getting attention, the change in extent of the thin sea ice is small relative to changes in the Arctic thickness and volume. Also the Antarctic sea ice is expected to melt every year, unlike the Arctic. The land ice is of more interest to researchers.

On Arctic ice loss having no effect, that is a comforting story. Believe it if you like, but there is reason to believe that ice loss affects weather patterns. A newer video by Prof Jennifer Francis discusses this.

Feb 17, 2013 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Simon, keep asking yourself why the sea ice is melting now when it wasn't melting in 1965 and beyond, don't be distracted. The temperature of the North Pole, by any measure should have gone up if the iceis to melt. It hasn't, and the Antarctic hasn't either, but it's sea ice is expanding. Why? Dunno, but I'm not alone, neither does anyone else.

Feb 17, 2013 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Not really related, but does anyone know why about 90% of the ocean is at a temperatuure oof 3-4 degrees, seeing how the average atmospheric temperature has been around 15 degrees since the end of the last glaciation about 20,000 years ago.

Feb 17, 2013 at 12:31 PM Rob Burton

Just guessing, but could it be to do with the fact that:

- The specific heat of liquid water is very high
- About three quarters of the Earth's surface is ocean and much of it quite deep

So that:

- The ocean does not pay much attention to what is happening in the atmosphere or on land
- Its average temperature is determined predominantly by its thermal radiation properties, in combination with the spectrum of incoming solar radiation.

This suggests a question: What would be the equilibrium temperature of an Earth-size sphere of seawater orbiting the Sun at the same distance as the Earth?

Feb 17, 2013 at 2:16 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Genronimo: "The temperature of the North Pole, by any measure should have gone up if the iceis to melt. It hasn't, and the Antarctic hasn't either, but it's sea ice is expanding..." That is a very authoritative-sounding statement. Can you back it up? There are numerous illustrations of the temperature anomaly being significantly greater in the Arctic, but maybe you reject their provenance.. for what? There's no thermometer stuck at the North Pole to check. The data-set you linked to earlier is a model. Is that your proof?

Feb 17, 2013 at 4:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

It is good to see BB here - I always love to see people setting themselves up for a disappointment.

Arctic sea ice has always fluctuated and always will. The variations on short time-scales have taken place without any significant change in average air temp, but sometimes local air temp variations. This is one of the reasons why NASA GISS has been "fiddling" with temps for Iceland in the 1930's, because they were as warm or warmer than today and that doesn't fit the story. Those adjustments (downwards) were made without the knowledge of the Icelandic Met Service. There is absolutely no reason to believe the thermometers were wrong or wrongly read by competent observers. As a meteorologist I find such fiddling alarming 80 years after the event - that is not science, that is an agenda.

We know there was little sea ice in the Arctic in the early 19th century and in the late 19th century - we also know that the USA surfaced nuclear subs within a few miles of the north pole in the 1950's.

So videos of the satellite era are interesting but rather meaningless on the slightly longer scale. It is like looking at the last 60 seconds of a football match and assuming that tells you how the match went. BUT we do know that 2012 was not a lowest "melt" area - NASA has admitted that the large storm of the first week of August was responsible and anyway only one "old" product had a low record area anyway. All the rest were larger than 2007 including the latest better (their words not mine) products from NSIDC that announced a new record - talk about cherry-picking. So maybe 2007 is the real low point, who knows? It has been cyclical in the past. So we will see.

Also March 2012 was right on the average Arctic sea ice extent for the satellite era, and the current area is pretty much up there as well. It has been another very cold winter in the Northern Hemisphere (NH) with the largest snow cover area in the satellite era at the New Year - Yes we know CO2 causes more snow or less snow or well something.......

So all in all BB I am keeping my options open here BUT if I had been telling the world that NH winters would be milder and wetter (IPCC AR4 ) and that we should spend billions we don't have to stop the non-existent warming - I think I would be wearing brown trousers by now.

By the way BB - I hope all this real world data (no models, no theories) doesn't upset you - it is amazing how some folk can't face actual data - yuk!

Feb 17, 2013 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterRetired Dave

We have observed for a long time that polar caps on Mars have come and gone with apparently little explanation. We see epic storm systems triggered on Mars and the other planets.

Since detail observations of Mars roughly coincide with space based Earth observation I was wondering if anybody's aware of a study looking to see if there's anything synchronised in terms of planetary atmospheric perturbations in the solar system?

fwiw I am acquainted with a few Scandinavian scientists who have careers dedicated to things Arctic (30+ years) and I asked them about the polar bear / ice melting thing and the response was "the variability of summer minimums is very large so we don't know much and we sure as hell aren't going to put our heads over the parapet and talk about it publicly in the present climate"

Feb 17, 2013 at 9:10 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I think my off-the cuff speculations (Feb 17, 2013 at 2:16 PM Martin A) were off-beam.

I would expect eventually the deep ocean to increase to somewhere near the surface temperature though I can see it taking it a very long time.

Feb 17, 2013 at 12:31 PM Rob Burton

Perhaps it's simply that a continual flow of denser cold water from the poles reaches the bottom of the ocean at a high enough rate to displace any water down there that somehow managed to get warmed a little.

Feb 17, 2013 at 9:56 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Retired Dave, you feel the need to prove that 2012 was nothing out of the ordinary. Why is that? If you look at the video posted earlier, you'll see the trend in 5 year ice is remarkably clear; whether 2012 is special or not is of no consequence - just look at the trend.

For another view, take a look at Tamino reporting on Kinnard et al in 2011 showing a reconsruction of Arctic ice extent for the last 1450 years. Note that 2012 is off the graph at around 6. Now as a good sceptic you will have no confidence in reconstructions like this; but you will have no trouble arguing on the basis of a bit of annecdotal evidence that current ice cover is nothing special. That is the joy of climate scepticism!

By the way, March is still winter in the Arctic. There is liitle or no sunlight and the water freezes. There is nothing very surpising about that, but it seems to tickle your fancy. Ooh, aah!

Feb 17, 2013 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Whatever is causing the sea ice to disappear there doesn't apppear to be any side effects. Well I say that, but given the "new pariadgim" that all weather is a sided effect of CO2 in the atmosphere I could be called out that and be told that "nothing particularly happening is a clear sign of global warming".

Feb 18, 2013 at 12:36 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

"Anectdotal evidence"? That's what you call observations over in la-la land is it?

Feb 18, 2013 at 2:17 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Well BB, it seems to be something of a puzzle doesn't it? Global temperatures have been "flatlining" (no significant trend they say) for the past 16 years (and that seems to be generally agreed) and yet Arctic sea ice is disappearing fast. Is it really melting in the Arctic (maybe as a result of unsuspected underwater volcanic activity perhaps, who knows?) or is it being blown by the wind to warmer latitudes? Is this just an interesting passing phenomenon or is it clear evidence that we've foolishly precipitated a planetary emergency and are heading for unavoidable catastrophe? Of course there could be much more to this story than meets even the scientific eye. What do you think BB?

Cheers, simon

Feb 18, 2013 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered Commentersimon abingdon

Simon, is there a global energy imbalance (more energy in than out)? If so, then the extra energy is going somewhere. It might be raising atmospheric/land temperatures; it might be melting ice; it might be raising sea temperatures; it might do all of the above and more. I am not a scientist and I haven't spent a lifetime studying these issues. But if those who are and have say that the Acrtic is melting because of this energy imbalance then I would need very good evidence to disagree.

Feb 18, 2013 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket