Don’t watch that, watch this!

If you’ve got any interest at all in the state of the Arctic Sea Ice, resist the temptation to watch the World Cup, or the start of the All Black’s winter season, and take a look at David Barber’s talk at the International Polar Year’s Oslo Science Conference. Go to the “Web TV” page, then scroll through the videos on offer until you see Barber’s talk — On Thin Ice: The Arctic and Climate Change (or use the direct link). Barber’s a good lecturer — he gave yesterday’s (Friday) morning plenary talk at the conference — and he delivers a fascinating overview of his work on the Circumpolar Flaw Project, one of the biggest components of the 2007-8 IPY. Most interesting of all is his description of the state of the sea ice last autumn, as the icebreaker Amundsen went in search of multi-year ice in the Beaufort Sea. He gives a graphic description (involving pyjamas) of the ice breaker discovering that what the Canadian Ice Service maps were suggesting was thick multi-year ice was nothing of the sort — the Amundsen was making a comfortable 13 knots through it, not far short of its top speed of 13.7 knots. That section of his talk starts at about 20 minutes in (by the timer on the player), but it’s worth watching the whole thing. The press release for Barber’s talk is here.

There’s an enormous amount of interesting material being presented and discussed at the Oslo conference, but comments made by James Overland of the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory about the mid-latitude impacts of the loss of sea ice really made me sit up and pay attention. “Cold and snowy winters will be the rule, rather than the exception,” he’s quoted as saying. Overland’s work, described in this fascinating page at PMEL, suggests that winter high pressure over the Arctic (and winter 2009-10 had the highest recorded Arctic pressures), associated with reduced sea ice cover, increases the potential for severe winters over the Eastern US, East Asia, and in late winter in Europe. This is really interesting work because it shows how Arctic change can have dramatic mid-latitude impacts, and I plan to cover it more detail to it in a future post. Don’t be surprised if Overland’s comments get the cranks all a twitter… 😉

[Update 14/6: As predicted!]

Finally, more from the eyes in the sky over Greenland (especially for Mauri 😉 ). Here’s what the Nares Strait looked like while Barber was talking. (Click to see the full size image, and here to see what it looked like at the end of March).


Temperatures are now getting above freezing, and with the snow cover melting the blue glacial ice of the Petermann Glacier tongue can be seen clearly. Ice is flowing down the Strait from the Arctic basin (look how fractured and mobile that basin ice is). I suspect, however, that there may be a temporary halt to ice export as a big lump of what could/should be thicker ice looks about to get stuck in the narrow entrance to the strait. If it’s thick multi-year ice, it could be a formidable obstacle, but if it’s “Barber ice”, it might not last long.

[Update: 15/6 — the “big lump” is currently blocking the entrance to Nares Strait, and floes are clearly backing up behind it. However, two substantial pieces have broken off the Strait side of the “lump” and that might allow the remainder to rotate and enter the Strait. Doesn’t look as though the ice was very strong…


10 thoughts on “Don’t watch that, watch this!”

  1. Overland's idea that the sea ice is driving colder mid-lat NH winters doesn't seem to have achieved consensus since such a conclusion requires that the sea ice be the cause of the recent shift in the Arctic Oscillation (which is what actually makes for the colder winter by allowing polar air masses to move south). See the the latest post by Rasmus over at RC. If Overland does turn out to be right, it seems to me that one hell of an AGW fingerprint will have been demonstrated.

    1. I'm reading some of the relevant papers at the moment, Steve, and will have a discussion up at some point soon. From what I've seen so far, it isn't just an AO thing (or at least, the AO is a symptom not the pathology), it's to do with the heat being liberated as the ice cover re-establishes in autumn and early winter affecting atmospheric flows around the NH. This paper looks relevant, and Jeff Masters has an interesting discussion here. Apart from anything else, this last winter looks to have been a perfect confirmation of the idea. I'm surprised more wasn't made of it earlier…

  2. 21:00: its a f*ck*n' disgrace: there he is saying "2013-2030" but WITH ABSOLUTELY NO ATTEMPT TO JUSTIFY WHY AT ALL.

    Argh, he has transformed me into a ranter.

    30:28: talks about 2009 ice, so it isn't as if he doesn't know.

    All in all: looks like very unsatifying anecdote-y type stuff. I hated it.

    1. Why am I not surprised? 😉 He points out that the overwintering stuff is still being written up, so you'll have a chance to pick it to pieces in due course. But the important point, that all is not what may seem when seen from space, needs to be made and Barber does it well. Extent covers a multitude of things…

      1. Oh, that it looks different on the ground isn't new. I have a paper saying so. I just didn't make a fuss about it 🙂

        Well, if he ever produces a reason why he believes 2013-203, or still better if he ever looks likely to bet on it, do let me know.

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