Once upon a time there was an ocean

by Gareth on August 10, 2008

Oldnorthpolemap.jpg The Arctic summer sea ice cover could be reduced by 2013 to “a few outcrops on islands near Greenland and Canada between mid-July and mid-September”, according to new research reported in The Observer [UK] today. The paper also suggests that this year could still see a new record minimum. Wieslaw Maslowski, the US Navy researcher who suggested in 2007 that the Arctic could be ice free by 2013, told Observer science editor Robin McKie:

‘It does not really matter whether 2007 or 2008 is the worst year on record for Arctic ice,’ Maslowski said. ‘The crucial point is that ice is clearly not building up enough over winter to restore cover and that when you combine current estimates of ice thickness with the extent of the ice cap, you get a very clear indication that the Arctic is going to be ice-free in summer in five years. And when that happens, there will be consequences.’

This is the first story I’ve found in a mainstream newspaper that has picked up on what those “consequences” might be, albeit in only the most general terms:

This startling loss of Arctic sea ice has major meteorological, environmental and ecological implications. The region acts like a giant refrigerator that has a strong effect on the northern hemisphere’s meteorology. Without its cooling influence, weather patterns will be badly disrupted, including storms set to sweep over Britain.

Or a run of warm wet summers.

The paper also talked to Mark Serreze from the NSIDC about the speed up in melt over the last week:

‘[...]Beaufort Sea storms triggered steep ice losses and it now looks as if it will be a very close call indeed whether 2007 or 2008 is the worst year on record for ice cover over the Arctic. We will only find out when the cover reaches its minimum in mid-September.’

The fat lady may just have got back into the limo and returned to her hotel for a snack.

[Update 12/8: The NSIDC has updated (11/8) its Arctic news page, commenting on the effect of storms on the ice, and noting that Amundsen's long version of the NW Passage will be open soon.]

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen August 10, 2008 at 8:36 pm

If nothing else, I should come here for all the hot new adaptations to ‘the fat lady show’.

CobblyWorlds August 10, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Nope, I just can’t think of anything to say.

I’m going for a walk along Blackpool’s promenade, in the autumnal wind and rain.

:(

CobblyWorlds August 11, 2008 at 2:03 am

Wieslaw Maslowski US Naval Postgraduate School. pdf 5.36Mb here.

When will Summer Arctic Sea Ice Disappear? Sustainability Weeks 2008 – Symposium on Drastic Change in the Earth System during Global Warming. Sapporo, Japan, 24 June 2008

Between 1997-2004… ice volume decreased by 40%, which is >2x the rate of ice area decrease.

If this trend persists the Arctic Ocean will become ice-free by ~2013!

Next March’s stats on perennial ice extent from Nghiem and any and all data re first-year ice thickness are now crucial.

“A linear increase in heat in the Arctic Ocean will result in a nonlinear, and accelerating, loss of sea ice.”

Norbert Untersteiner, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington, July 2006

William August 12, 2008 at 3:42 am

Oh come on. NSIDC has a rather more balanced approach: The Arctic sea ice is now at the peak of the melt season. Although ice extent is below average, it seems less likely that extent will approach last year’s record low. The pace of summer decline is slower than last year’s record-shattering rate, and peak sunlight has passed with the summer solstice. However, at least six weeks of melt are left in the season and much of the remaining ice is thin and vulnerable to rapid loss. A race has developed between the waning sunlight and the weakened ice.

The 2013 stuff is nonsense.

CobblyWorlds August 12, 2008 at 10:30 am

William,

Perhaps you could blog on it.

Quick google… Ahhh, I see you have! Heavy on incredulity, sparse on reasoning though… ;)

I’ll reply over at Stoat.

gareth August 12, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Worth noting that Serreze’s comments postdate the NSIDC Aug 1st assessment.

And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Maslowski’s work. His prediction might be an outlier, but it sets a lower bound on plausible cases. And his case is nothing if not plausible (see CW’s earlier link).

He has confirmed, however, that McKie’s comments are not based on a new paper. He has one coming out later this year…

malcolm August 14, 2008 at 12:25 am

Interesting stuff. Being a simple barefoot empiricist, I like to look at the data, particularly here:

http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/sea.ice.anomaly.timeseries.jpg

Past history shows many cases of sudden ‘melt’ and sudden recovery, presumably due to wind, measurement, or god knows what. At this stage, we could be in just such a similar temporary dip (which actually occur at all times of the year in the historical record), or it could be a more sustained low plateau for a few weeks. Or even the presage of a further melt.

If it’s just brief dip, I think the fat lady will have been satisfied by the mini-bar in the limo. If it’s a sustained low plateau, or further substantial melt, I’ll be inclined to think that she’s gone to back to her hotel for the Surf n Turf, followed by a Bombe Alaska.

CobblyWorlds August 14, 2008 at 6:58 am

Malcolm,

Bear in mind that the anomaly is the difference from average. Even without what’s going on now you’ll have odd times when there are dips/peaks from average because just as no 2 years are identical, no year would follow the average.

As for what’s going to happen, I give up. My latest prediction has been shown wrong, the gap between this year and last year’s areas is now dropping below half what I said would be the likely difference at minima. Previous minima have been between 27 Aug and 15 Sept, that’s 2 to 4 weeks to go.

I’m tempted to go do something completely different until 1 September.

If I can just drag myself away. ;)

tortoise August 29, 2008 at 3:40 am

Two weeks after Malcom’s comment above, the melt seems to be proceeding, indeed faster than it was at this time in 2007. Probably another couple of weeks at least until minimum. It may not surpass 2007, but then again it might. At any rate, as Maslowski said, it doesn’t really matter…

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