Arctic double stunner: Sea ice extent is now below 2007 levels, while volume hit record low for March

Summer poised to set new record

NSIDC 5-20-10

While the anti-science crowd scours the globe desperately looking for any indication of their imaginary cooling, reality has intruded again.

Because they and the media — and even some scientists who don’t follow the subject closely — tend to take a two-dimensional view of the Arctic, they along with much of the public have been fooled into thinking the Arctic “recovered” in the past two years because sea ice extent appeared to recover.  Heck, some even claimed last month the Arctic ice was “recovering” to the 1979-2000 average.

Climate Progress readers have long understood that trends in multi-year ice “” ice volume “” are what matter most in terms of the long-term survivability of the Arctic ice in the summer (see New study supports finding that “the amount of [multi-year] sea ice in the northern hemisphere was the lowest on record in 2009″³).

CP readers have also understood that Arctic volume did not recover in the last two years.  Quite the reverse — we appear to have been breaking volume records over the past several months according to the Polar Science Center:

Total Arctic Ice Volume for March 2010 is 20,300 km^3, the lowest over the 1979-2009 period and 38% below the 1979 maximum. September Ice Volume was lowest in 2009 at 5,800 km^3 or 67% below its 1979 maximum.

That is, in September, PSC says we saw the lowest volume ever, and in March, we saw the lowest volume for that month, according to their Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS).  Cryosphere scientists I have spoken to say PIOMAS is best for showing long-term trends, and they do recommend the caveat that it is a model, and so conclusions should be viewed accordingly.  That said, as the website shows, the analysis has been validated.

I would also note that even the sea ice area measurements are based on remote data that must be interpreted using models.  A recent study, “Perennial pack ice in the southern Beaufort Sea was not as it appeared in the summer of 2009” by Barber et al. suggested that satellite (and other) measurements of Arctic sea ice extent were apparently deceived into OVERestimating summer sea ice extent in 2009:

In September 2009 we observed a much different sea icescape in the Southern Beaufort Sea than anticipated, based on remotely sensed products. Radarsat derived ice charts predicted 7 to 9 tenths multi-year (MY) or thick first-year (FY) sea ice throughout most of the Southern Beaufort Sea in the deep water of the Canada Basin. In situ observations found heavily decayed, very small remnant MY and FY floes interspersed with new ice between floes, in melt ponds, thaw holes and growing over negative freeboard older ice. This icescape contained approximately 25% open water, predominantly distributed in between floes or in thaw holes connected to the ocean below. Although this rotten ice regime was quite different that the expected MY regime in terms of ice volume and strength, their near-surface physical properties were found to be sufficiently alike that their radiometric and scattering characteristics were almost identical.

Last week, Arctic explorers again reported conditions they did not expect:

A group of British explorers just back from a 60-day trip to the North Pole said on Monday they had encountered unusual conditions, including ice sheets that drifted far faster than they had expected.

The three-member team walked across the frozen Arctic Ocean to study the impact of increased carbon dioxide absorption by the sea, which could make the water more acidic and put crucial food chains under pressure.

Expedition leader Ann Daniels said the ice drifted so much that they eventually covered 500 nautical miles (576 miles) rather than the 268 nautical miles initially envisaged.

One possible reason for the rapid drift was a lack of ice, she suggested. Satellite imagery reveals rapidly melting ice sheets in the Arctic, a region which is heating up three times more quickly than the rest of the Earth….

“None of us had ever experienced that amount of southerly drift on our previous expeditions, and it continued for such a long period of time. We kept expecting it to stop, we began to pray it would stop,” Daniels said….

Many scientists link the higher Arctic temperatures to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming….

Ah, those blame-mongering “many scientists.”  Seriously, Reuters, can’t we get something just a little better than three hedges — “many” and “link” and “blamed”?  Can’t we get by with, say, just one friggin’ hedge?  (Plus that sentence as written makes no sense — The higher temperatures are the same as global warming)

How about “Many scientists say the higher Arctic temperatures are from global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions”?  How about no hedges:  “Climate scientists say the higher Arctic temperatures are from global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”

The story continues

“We spent a couple of days walking on ice that was three or four inches thick with no other thicker ice around, which was a big surprise to us,” he told the news conference….

Last month explorers at the team’s ice base some 680 miles (1,100 km) further south reported a three-minute rain shower, which they described as a freak event.

It’s time to stop being surprised by the fact that the ice is so damn thin — see my May 2009 post, North Pole poised to be largely ice-free by 2020: “It’s like the Arctic is covered with an egg shell and the egg shell is now just cracking completely.”

And it’s time to stop calling extreme weather “freak events.”  But I digress.

The PIOMAS analysis appears to be the best volume model around, and here is their latest anomaly graph:


Note:  “Anomalies for each day are calculated relative to the average over the 1979 -2009 period for that day to remove the annual cycle.” The sharp drop at the end is not to a record low absolute level of ice volume, but to apparent record low for the month.

So, will we see a record low area and record low volume this year?

One cryosphere scientist I e-mailed who doesn’t want to make predictions on the record thinks we’re on track to beat last year’s area and hit the 2008 level — unless we get the same kind of weather pattern that we had back in 2007, in which case we would set the record and perhaps by a very large margin.  Note that although we are apparently below 2007 sea-ice area now, we aren’t at the record low area for this month (click here).

The volume record seems more probable given where the sea ice extent is now compared to 2007 and how much less volume we appear to be starting with right now.  Of course, the sea ice extent is more visible and anything less than the record of 2007 will no doubt be dismissed by some.  But at least with the Polar Science Center work, we will have a nearly contemporaneous, well-validated model to track the volume.

I still like my odds on a 90% ice free Arctic by 2020 (see “Another big climate bet “” Of Ice and Men“).

[Note:  Any reader who is good at data graphing, please email me here.]


58 Responses to Arctic double stunner: Sea ice extent is now below 2007 levels, while volume hit record low for March

  1. prokaryote says:

    Sidenote, we have now the first invest (90L), beside the hurricane season starts on june 1st.

    In the Northern Atlantic Ocean, a distinct hurricane season occurs from June 1 to November 30, sharply peaking from late August through September

  2. Ben A says:

    Here’s a nice graph of each year’s extent plotted alongside one another.

    2007 didn’t turn into the shocker that it was until July or so. Nevertheless, you’re right — it’s poised to be an interesting summer

  3. R. Gates says:

    So many of the AGW skeptics simply ignore the sea ice volume measurement, or discount it as a “guess”. Volume is a far better indicator of the general state of the arctic sea ice than extent. Many AGW skeptics held up the fact that 2008 and 2009 showed a modest recovery as a sign that all the “alarmism” was for nothing, as things were “getting back to normal”. Never did they, of course, look at the volume measurements. Personally, I think the 2008-2009 “recovery” was more about the long solar minimum and the La Nina during this time period than anything, but there really was no recovery in volume. The slight uptick in multi-year ice during this period was really an illusion, as this multi-year ice did not have the same volume as multi-year ice may have prior to 2007’s big dip in sea ice.

    As of today, I still think the summer low arctic sea ice extent will be about 4.5 million sq. km (based on IJIS/JAXA data), so slightly more than the low we saw in 2007, but certainly less than the 2008 and 2009 summer lows. I may revise this estimate downward to below the 2007 extent if current trends continue however, as the melt has been quite robust so far and we are not yet into the heart of the summer melt season.

  4. dhogaza says:

    One cryosphere scientist I e-mailed who doesn’t want to make predictions on the record thinks we’re on track to beat last year’s area and hit the 2008 level — unless we get the same kind of weather pattern that we had back in 2007

    I’ve been saying something close to that, but a bit more aggressive – extent higher than 2007, lower than 2008 but not by much. I’m starting to think that I might turn out to have been too conservative when we look back next September…

    And volume? I think it’s almost inevitable unless something very, very weird happens over summer.

    Like … Krakatoa or the like.

  5. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Re the website’s graph cited in #1 – in late April the 2010 ice area line was above all other eight most recent years (2002-2009); today 2010 has gone below 6 of the prior years and, if the trend continues, will be below all years soon. Makes sense; all other things being equal a smaller volume should melt a lot faster.

  6. Doug Bostrom says:

    Looking at the PIOMAS graph I see loads of “recoveries” yet the trend can only be described as “plunge.” Commensurate with that, the rejectionist response can only be described as “psychotic.” Truly, full blown psychosis.

  7. Lou Grinzo says:

    Bill (#5): Clearly you’re able to think in three dimensions AND across time. Your application for membership in the Secret Order of Climate Change Deniers is hereby rejected.

    On a slightly more serious note, I covered this ice situation and the deniers’ serial myopia in:

    Deniers: Dancing on thin ice, as usual

  8. Leif says:

    The steep slope of the melt curve has started fully one month before the matching 2007 melt slope. An interesting summer in store indeed.

  9. MarkB says:

    “Heck, some even claimed last month the Arctic ice was “recovering” to the 1979-2000 average.”

    I even heard some claim it was recovering to 1979’s levels. The Telephone Game works quite well among deniers.

    Ben A. makes a good point (#2) regarding 2007’s unusual decline not happening until July-August, so this year’s line below 2007’s level at this point isn’t all that stunning. Some unusual conditions contributed to 2007’s decline as I remember.

    But as Bill notes in #5, we’re also talking a smaller ice volume, which seems to help the chances of a record low September ice extent.

  10. Lou Grinzo says:

    Leif: That’s the thing that jumped out at me, too. Referring to the earlier downturn in the ice extent curve.)

    In general, I would expect to see that curve shift down (less ice at all point of the cycle), and get steeper once the heavy melting kicks in (thinner ice = quicker state change) or the refreezing starts (lots of open water + a thin ice layer = quick state change in the other direction).

    While I have the chance, I’d like to ask the assembled CP crowd one question: Do you find these ongoing revelations about Arctic ice even more depressing than the other “it’s worse than we thought” news we’re constantly bombarded with? I do, and I’m struggling to figure out why. Maybe it’s simply because of the known feedbacks (albedo flip, permafrost methane), but whatever the reason it seems to be a scarier situation at a visceral level…

  11. mike roddy says:

    Thanks for the detail, and for putting this on the record. CP is really becoming indispensable in this regard.

  12. JRL says:

    Lou #10

    To answer your question, I find these revelations very sobering, more so after seeing the great loss of ice volume, both sea ice and the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps.

  13. K. Nockels says:

    #10 Lou, The answer is yes to your quetion to the CP crowd. Being one and KNOWING really at gut level that we are in really serious, dangerous,lethal trouble here on planet earth is depressing but for me not as much as the on going debate about how much trouble we’re in. Its like watching a child skate out on ice you as the adult KNOW is to thin to hold their weight but can’t seem to find a way no mater how hard you try to stop them.

  14. mike roddy says:

    Lou, from a cerebral standpoint, it doesn’t get worse than Arctic ice disappearance, due to feedbacks, especially from albedo. It’s also obvious and irrefutable, in spite of what you may hear from Fox, George Will, and Dot Earth commenters.

    One feedback that may finally awaken the public is ocean warming, which could cause all kinds of havoc. Another is more serious forest dieoffs than we are already seeing at only a 1C temperature increase. The extent of beetle kills and fires so far was unforeseen, even by climatologists. Another half degree, or a very bad summer, could mean much larger areas turning brown, and fires that will be measured in square miles, not acres.

    It’s a race against time whether biological catastrophes will occur in time to galvanize the public.

  15. Mark Shapiro says:

    Well friends, in addition to ClimateProgress, I’ve bookmarked NSIDC’s ArcticSeaIceNews, UIUC’s Cryosphere Today, and now UW APL PSC’s ArcticSeaIceVolume pages. Now I can watch record-smashing Arctic melt in 3D without leaving my computer.

    This is easier than watching paint dry.

    To address Lou’s question @10, I find it as fascinating; and you nailed the exact reasons — albedo flip and permafrost methane melt. But it is also the inexorability of it all. You recognize how long the lags are — warming lags behind CO2, decarbonizing lags clean energy infrastructure, clean energy lags policy, and policy lags behind attitudes.

    But, no time to waste on depression or pessimism — there are politicians, journalists, friends, family and neighbors to educate. Keep on trucking!

  16. Doug Bostrom says:


    Do you find these ongoing revelations about Arctic ice even more depressing than the other “it’s worse than we thought” news we’re constantly bombarded with?

    Actually I think it’s extremely difficult for us to avoid integrating at least some iota of wishful thinking when more or less optimistic pronouncements are repeated so frequently and loudly, both in the style of outright rejection and as well as in the more subtle form of blatantly declining measurements being qualified with words such as “may”, “might” or “could be.”

    So yes, I guess I’m surprisingly dismayed by the combination of the more “traditional” extent measurements with the newly highlighted and more significant volumetric data.

  17. Thomas says:

    What about the fact that ice was right at normal through the winter?? This kind of stuff happen whens the oceans are warm, or do you not think so?? And this year may be a more hit for melting of sea ice, but just as sure as we are going to see global temperatures drop by the end of the year, ice will eventually go up like it was before the PDO went warm.

  18. Leif says:

    Is there such a thing as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome for Environmentalists?

    In answer to your question Lou, I find myself torn between morbid curiosity; rooting for the worst and the sooner the better, so we have a chance at mitigation; escapism, when I cannot take any more; and surrender; I am 69 and been an activist since the 60s. I have been a party to a number of wins but to loose the big enchilada forces me back into the pot for another round. Most days CP and rational commentators give me fortitude to keep up the efforts. Thank you Joe and all.

    Two Palms Up,


  19. Jim Eager says:

    Lou, I used to get depressed by the shockingly rapid decline of Arctic sea ice, but I’ve come to accept the inevitability of what is coming. In a away it’s actually kind of awesome to watch a process that normally happens on a geologic timescale take place in just a few years. These days I get depressed by the state of the ocean. We’ve literally vacuumed up most of the fish and scoured the most productive sea bottom bare. I have a hard time believing that we have not already gone well past the point of no return.

  20. prokaryote says:

    #10, Related to your question.

    Is There an Ecological Unconscious?

  21. Jon says:

    Given the strong evidence for the inevitability of bad things happening in the medium term no matter what we do, my wish that extremely bad things not happen in the long term has me joining Leif in often “rooting for the worst and the sooner the better, so we have a chance at mitigation”. It’s a pity the Arctic sea ice has to be the poster boy – uncomfortable though it would be for me personally it would be far more poetically just and probably effective if the lower 48 would be afflicted with an intense summer-long heat wave instead – but the power is not given to me to make the universe kick legislators in the backside in the way that would most efficiently balance effectiveness with damage to the biosphere.

  22. Sasparilla says:

    This news isn’t unexpected, but is sad to see.

    To address your question Lou (#10):

    “Do you find these ongoing revelations about Arctic ice even more depressing than the other “it’s worse than we thought” news we’re constantly bombarded with?”

    I do find this more disturbing at the gut level as well. For me, part of it is that you can look at these web pages and “see” it (we’re such visual creatures) and see the change.

    Something else that might tie into all this is that much of the news we’re constantly reading are (to an extent) “one off” items and then you don’t hear about it for a long time – and I think most of us have been following and watching the ice destruction for years (which you can continuously monitor from your computer).

    You want something you (personally) can monitor (and visually see) on a daily basis to give you a feeling of what is happening with climate change – here it is, the news ain’t good and you can see it.

    What D. Bostrom said is in there for me as well, there’s a certain part of me that wanted the denier prognostications about cover (a few months ago) to be true – i.e. just give us another year or two break on the ice cap before it starts being destroyed again, of course that was never happening.

    Interesting question Lou.

  23. Doug Bostrom says:

    Thomas says: May 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    See, not to be unkind but that’s what I mean by psychosis.

    Thomas, where on the graph at the link do you find an indication of a reversal, or lack of a trend? You can see it, yes? Where in the path between your retina and your neocortex is the information pouring into your eyes vanishing?

  24. SecularAnimist says:

    Lou wrote: “Do you find these ongoing revelations about Arctic ice even more depressing than the other ‘it’s worse than we thought’ news we’re constantly bombarded with?”

    At some point in the not-too-distant future, it will begin to register on the General Public that because of anthropogenic global warming, there is no future.

    What will happen then?

    Tell me how, if you think you know,
    How do people love when there’s no tomorrow?
    Do people love when there’s no tomorrow?
    And still not cry when it’s time to go
    — Jefferson Airplane

  25. Wonhyo says:

    Lou Grinzo #10: “Do you find these ongoing revelations about Arctic ice even more depressing than the other ‘it’s worse than we thought’ news we’re constantly bombarded with?”

    We need to stop being stunned by these “revelations”. Scientists have been predicting these events for a long time. They’ve been consistently underestimating the pace and severity of climate change as well. We shouldn’t be surprised when a climate change effect occurs sooner than previously predicted.

    Depression is a good thing, because that means you’re past the denial stage. That’s one step closer to acceptance and effective action. Just don’t get stuck in depression or let that hinder you from doing what you can to deal with climate change. I think JR would appreciate statements of action over statements of resignation.

  26. Mark Shapiro says:

    FWIW, I’ll predict record low sea ice extent, area, and volume this September.

    And when people see open water at the North Pole some September, they will sit up and take notice.

  27. Jim Eager says:

    Thomas, do you not grasp the fact that the only place there is room for ice extent to grow is outside the Arctic basin, which guarantees that any growth will be the fist to melt in the following season?

    Do you not grasp the fact that “normal” itself is in long term decline?

    Apparently not.

  28. Lore says:

    Mark Shapiro #27
    “And when people see open water at the North Pole some September, they will sit up and take notice.”

    I suspect “some” people will point once again to old pictures of submarines emerging through open water at the pole. And we will once again talk and talk with little being done to accomplish what’s needed, because now any action would be a devastating blow to our collective obese posteriors and equally fat corporate wallets. Not until our sins really come home will reality set in. Then expect a Chinese fire drill.

  29. KeenOn350 says:

    Lou #10
    Yes, I find it very depressing – because it is so well established as warning data, so easy to understand (I mean – the ice is simply disappearing, right?) and yet it simply doesn’t get through to all those who want to fry the human race (as well as most other flora and fauna).

    What really rots my socks is the fact that we could *probably* keep the biosphere healthy if we made a major effort now, but it just isn’t happening, in large part because of all the negative noise from North America. Europe knows we need to move, and is moving. China and India are a bit of a problem, but China, especially, is doing much more than the USofA – on a national basis – and still has a much lower per capita carbon footprint.

    Time is getting short!
    Good luck to us all!
    Time is getting short!

  30. paulm says:

    Stark new global warming warning

    “There have been changes where sea level – which is a primary concern here as the ice sheets shrink – have gone up quite rapidly, but certainly, the few thousand years that humans have been on the planet we’ve never experienced anything like this.”

    “We expected to see less ice. Every time the world has warmed, there is less ice and the sea level goes up, but the rates of change now really alarm us and astonish us.

    “In the case of the floating ice shelves, these thick, floating sheets of ice in the Antarctic peninsula, take thousands of years to form, and in some cases they are disintegrating, in literally weeks, so that’s certainly not a natural process.”

    This, Binchadler puts down to global warming and climate change – he also believes there is little we can now do to stop it.

    “It’s unlikely that we can stop it,” he says.

  31. Lou Grinzo says:

    Lore(#29): I hate to say it, but I agree completely with your assessment of how the general public will react (to the extent they notice it at all) when we have open sea at the North Pole.

    For me, this is the toughest part of this accelerating mess, the fact that people like us here on CP or the regulars over on my site are by far the exception, and that the mainstream consumers and voters will not lift a finger or pay more than a trivial amount to do anything about this problem until it has directly impacted them. We’ve become, by and large, a society that trusts almost no one in power and lives by confirmation bias.

    I’ve made the point online before that given the multiple, sequential, and sizable lags between the public “getting it” on CC and the problem being “fixed”, the public is not just refusing to believe the stove is hot and touching it anyway, but they’re in effect committing themselves to keeping their (and our) hand on the hot stove for minutes or hours. There is no quick reflex action to save us from horrific pain and injury once the burning starts.

  32. paulm says:

    Lou #10, to put it in perspective we were on the Niagra… we are just over the lip of the falls. I personal can see how on assimilating all the observations/data from say 5yrs back it can not be concluded that we have certainly pasted some tipping point previously.

    Especially observing the rate of ice melt and its indicator in accelerated sea level rise. That has momentum which can not be turned back even with out considering the overshoot and lag heating of CO2 emissions, then throw on top of that the feedback effects kicking in now.

    We have to duck and roll with the ride now. Its going to be rough, but we must and we always do march onwards and up. Its our genetic program.

    Oh here’s some northern comment on this…

    Arctic sea ice vanishing faster than ‘our most pessimistic models’: researcher

    Canada’s largest climate-change study yet said Friday — raising the possibility that the Arctic could, in a worst-case scenario, be ice-free in about three years.

    symposium on climate change in Winnipeg. “It’s happening much faster than our most pessimistic models suggested.”

  33. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Lou #10

    Personally the ice melt scares the he’ll out me, because it could mean we’re at the edge of an irreversable tipping point. But if we’re really lucky, the tipping point may be further away.

    I watch the ice data a lot. Among all the AGW indicators the shrinking area of melting arctic ice is a pretty simple concept that is easily illustrated with simple graphs and supported by satellite photographs.

    So I have some hope that the undeniable evidence of melting ice will be reported at least somewhat in the MSM and that rational people who have denied or ignored AGW up to know will begin to recognize the need for quick CO2 reductions and that we may act in time.

  34. Steve L says:

    Joe, your third last paragraph after “will we see record low area and record low volume this year?” is more than necessarily confusing. One can figure out when you’re talking about extent (not area?) vs volume, but only by referring to above sections in which you discuss the records that have already been broken.

    [JR: Don’t see how it is confusing to anyone who reads the piece.]

    Also, I assume that near-surface properties being similar for the rotten ice and good multi-year ice means that the crappy/thin ice has a similar albedo to strong ice. That’s good news. When the thin ice is largely gone at the summer solstice, though, then it’s probably panic time.

  35. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Are the dark and light grey sections on the PIOMAS chart one and two standard deviations?

    We still have these linear expectations in a non linear world. Ice loss would seem to be accelerating, so much so that winter ice could be an occasional thing sometime later this century. Do the graph, it is scary.

    Has anyone one done the trend lines for Arctic navigability? As more and more ships use Arctic routs it will exacerbate the situation.

  36. SecularAnimist says:

    I wouldn’t worry TOO much about the Arctic ice.

    The acidification of the oceans and the accelerating spread of anoxic dead zones will probably kill off most life on Earth before the melting ice becomes a big problem.

  37. prokaryote says:

    “Any reader who is good at data graphing …”

    Here are some (April article)

    Here is an older video, which shows the magnitude in motio. Really tells the story when you see the huge parts breaking up and floating away.

  38. Wit's End says:

    Lou Grinzo, to me the acidification of the ocean is both personally depressing and a critically important lesson for people who might not accept the CO2 warming effect, or might feel like melting ice is too distant to matter.

    The chemistry of ocean acidification isn’t at all difficult to grasp, and the consequences are easily demonstrated. The ocean food chain is GOING to collapse, between acidification, warming, more violent storms, and grotesque overfishing. Since most of earth’s oxygen comes from life in the sea, this will pose a bit of a problem. I have seen for myself, when snorkeling, the difference between coral reefs ten years ago – and after bleaching, more recently.

    Then again, what initially brought me to comprehend the severity, indeed the soul-crushing catastrophe, of climate change was finding it in my own backyard, and I suspect that will be the case for many people. That’s what I write about on my blog. Trees are dying all around my home, and up and down the East Coast at a minimum – and it’s toxic greenhouse gases that are killing them.

    However, that’s no reason to give up, in my opinion.

  39. Increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is undoubtedly increasing climate warmth. However I suspect that also an equally great affect on warmth is the baring of soil by increase in annual crop acreage, cutting down forests, roads, buildings, grazing, and desertification currently, especially in the tropics and subtropics. This may be a considerable part of the reason why the southwestern USA tends to be warmer than the southeast. You may see an article that briefly discusses this in more detail and presents some solutions in . If you see any possible improvement or errors, please let me know.

  40. Mike #22 says:

    Now might be a good time to buy some insurance. Sea Spray Geoengineering has potential. The cost of adapting some ships to do small scale testing would be small, a few million.

    Just pointing out that we need to get some tests running.

  41. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Mark at #27.

    ” . . . when people see open water at the North Pole some September, they will sit up and take notice.”

    The denialist spin machine will doubtless be long prepared for this event – at a guess I’d say they’ll likely use it to revive the lie about global warming being a positive benefit, if it existed at all, cos it’s opened a new shorter northern shipping route between Pacific and Atlantic nations.

    Given that “that which can’t be counted, gets discounted”, there’s surely a great need to put the loss of ice cover albido into a metric that politicians and diplomats are familiar with ?

    The logical metric is of ‘millions of tonnes of carbon equivalent’, since all negotiations on climate are based on it.

    So can anyone report on research as to just what the additional warming due to ongoing ice loss amounts to, and what annual tonnage of carbon emissions that equates to ?

    If that figure is made available, along with forecasts of its rise, then decision-makers will start to be faced with hard numbers as to the hazard posed by the feedbacks.



  42. Roger says:

    Given all of the doom and gloom comments above, and I am not immune, it’s nice to note that a small glimmer of light just popped into view.

    Did anyone else notice? A new field of “synthetic biology” has emerged, and made news this week when the private Venter Institute announced the creation of a synthetic organism.

    Described as a new turning point in the changing relationship between man and nature, we may have just made a giant leap forward towards having the future capability of pulling vast quantities of CO2 out of the atmosphere and combining it with water to make hydrocarbons.

    As a matter of fact, and quite interestingly, a Venter-related company, Synthetic Genomics Inc., reportedly has a $600 million contract with Exxon Mobil to design a synthetic algae that can convert CO2 into fuel. (According to a May 21st Wall Street Journal article, at least three other companies are working on synthetic cells to produce renewable fuels: Amyris Biotech, LS9 Inc., and Joule Unlimited.)

    Dusting off my technological forcasting crystal ball, and depending heavily on the amount of additional funding that goes into this R&D, I’d estimate that it could easily take several decades to get us to the point where this technology will have a meaningful physical impact.

    On the other hand, psychologically, just knowing that there’s a new ray of hope for a scientifically-valid, and likely cost-effective solution, clearly visible on the distant horizon–well, it made my day!

    Joe, perhaps you could do a post, or get Craig Venter to do a guest post to expand on this topic some day. Just a thought!


  43. mauri pelto says:

    Given the record melt off of snowcover in the Northern Hemisphere in March and April, from Rutgers Global Snow Lab data , a delayed but similar trend in sea ice is not a surprise.

  44. John McCormick says:

    Lou, you said at #10

    Maybe it’s simply because of the known feed backs (albedo flip, permafrost methane), but whatever the reason it seems to be a scarier situation at a visceral level…

    I want to add a few *unknowns* to your comment.

    Several recent papers have attempted to link Arctic ice melt back to the recent erratic behavior of the South Asian monsoon…its arrival time has become less predictable as has its intensity and location of heaviest precipitation. Mumbai was facing a serious water shortage last summer when its reservoirs should have been replenished by the seasonal rain.

    And, the most distressing aspect of Arctic melt back is not knowing how the loss of the planet’s refrigerator in the summer months is affecting temperature and precipitation in the US grain belt. There seems to be little research and less interest in knowing the relationship between lost albedo and weather changes in the world’s grain basket.

    Abrupt climate change is a difficult concept to grasp but it may not be limited to seasonal and multi-year weather anomalies. I see the Arctic ice as a climate unto itself…a solid climate. If we are going into a future of summer ice-free Arctic that is surely an abrupt climate change that could (likely is) impact the whole of humanity.

    John McCormick

  45. dhogaza says:

    Rabid Doomsayer asks …

    Are the dark and light grey sections on the PIOMAS chart one and two standard deviations?


  46. David says:

    Not looking too good for the summer. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this summer’s melt exceed that of 2007. It looks like we’ll be starting off the peak melt season lower than that year and with generally thinner ice.

  47. BillD says:

    Roger #23:

    What we have now are plants and algae that take CO2, light and water to make hydrocarbons, mostly carbohydrates. They also need N to make protein. As a biologist, I don’t think that Venter or other biologists can come up with any artificial organism that is more efficient of effective that what we already have in nature. Plants do take up CO2 and are constrained by energy and element requirements. I don’t see that artificial organisms can excape the constraints that limit the effectiveness of plants and algae. Perhaps plants and photosynthesis can be improved upon, but not by more than a few percent.

  48. dhogaza says:

    er. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this summer’s melt exceed that of 2007.

    I think it’s almost certain that the summer reduction in extent will exceed that of 2007, because the maximum extent this year was noticeably higher than in 2007. Whether this greater reduction is enough to cause extent to drop below 2007 will be interesting to see.

    I’m using “reduction” rather than “melt” to drive home the point that extent is not volume, and “melt” should be thought of as a volume measurement …

  49. Dan B says:


    I agree. Venter’s talking about perpetual motion here – get out of jail free too.

    He’s not an Einstein and unlikely to throw the basic laws of thermodynamics out. Then again he’s good at endlessly spewing good sounding talking points.

    The lesson is people are desperate for any positive vision, especially something that seems new and easy. We’ve already got all the tools and resources to get off fossil fuels. We simply need to persuade people that jobs, security, and community will not be destroyed by making the change.

    As if catastrophic climate and weather changes won’t destroy all.

  50. Roger says:

    Thanks for the comments on my #43, DanB and BillD.

    Yes, I’m starved for a positive vision. They’re tough to find. It seems as if we’ve got most of the elements of human nature working against us. So, as a scientist, I still look to technology for hope.

    Depending on where you start counting, we are many years, even many decades, into suspecting, or knowing, that we had a problem brewing. Yet, so far, none of the individuals, organizations, nor others working on the problem seem to have really begun to solve it.

    In the human arena, I am still HOPING that Obama will provide the leadership we need to pull this situation out of the fire–to persuade people, as Dan suggests. (I’m convinced that if enough people REALLY understood what was at stake here, there would be NO problem getting enough votes to pass strong climate legislation! I’m also convinved that Obama is in the best position get citizens educated quickly.)

    Of course, ‘hoping’ that Obama will do something is not nearly as good as letting him KNOW what we expect him to do. So, keep those card and letters, emails and rallys, faxes and phone calls flowing!


  51. Bob Wallace says:

    The Arctic ROOS site has just updated with 5/22 data on ice extent.

    We’ve now had three weeks of ‘extent decline’ slope that is more similar to June – August slope than typical May slope. (We did see similar melt behavior in 2008 as the thin ice following 2007 quickly melted away.)

  52. BillD says:

    The weather forecast for the midwestern US is highs in the mid-80s every day this week. However, and a bit shocking, a poster on WUWT’s arctic ice posted a link to a town in Alaska north of the arctic circle and they are also expecting at least three highs above 80 oF this week.

  53. Bob Wallace says:

    Bill – do you have a name for that town? Or the link?

    I did a couple of searches on WUWT and didn’t find the post. And I don’t want to spend time reading suspect stuff that might accidentally get lodged in my brain.

  54. John McCormick says:

    Bob, I linked to today and saw temp in Barrow is 29 degrees F and for the next ten days about the same. Barrow is about as far north as one can get in Alaska.

    John McCormick

  55. NeilT says:

    According to the University of Bremen AMSR-E site (a must for daily Arctic Ice Concentration addicts), the extent is equal to 2006 and looking like dropping below it.

    However the russian side is now looking much like it had a flamethrower turned on it, but the Canadian side is consolidating.

    Back in 2006 I asked a simple question. If we lost 66% of the Ice thickness and 50% of the Area, how much ICE would we have left? Naturally only 17%. At that time the news was spouting claims of 66% loss of thickness since the 50’s.

    I’ve noticed that the press swing between poles each year. Trumpeting “ice gains” every march and trumpeting “ice loss” or lack of “ice loss” every September. Simply put, it has to be “happening” so they can sell it. If it’s not “happening” then they can’t sell it so they either have to rubbish it or ignore it.

    What the press don’t seem to realise is that when it actually “happens” it’ll be more than they bargained for and that the best use of their time should have been making sure it didn’t “happen” instead of trying to sell the consequences…….

  56. Bob Wallace says:

    Just checked Weather Underground. Here are the hottest places in Alaska as of about 6PM Pacific time.

    Talkeetna 76.6 °F
    Fort Yukon 73 °F
    Cantwell 72 °F
    Willow 70.4 °F
    Fairbanks 68 °F
    McGrath 68 °F
    Anchorage 66.0 °F

    I did a bit of further looking and Fort Yukon is forecast to have four “close to 80F” days this week.

    Looking at the state current temp map it is about 32 F along the coast, but in the higher 60s, low 70s if you go only a little way inland. Approx. 6:30 PM Pacific. Land is definitely heating up, coast right at the melting point.

    Prudhoe Bay is projected to have daytime highs in the 40s this week. And not going much below freezing at night. (What night there is.)