Temperatures of North Atlantic “are unprecedented over the past 2000 years and are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming” — Science

The 3.5°F warming of Fram Strait water over the past century is “not just the latest in a series of natural multidecadal oscillations.”

Study after study finds recent warming is unprecedented in magnitude and speed and cause.  The anti-science crowd keeps trying to debunk one or two old Hockey Sticks, but new ones crop up faster than a speeding puck.

Science just published a new one, “Enhanced Modern Heat Transfer to the Arctic by Warm Atlantic Water” (subs. req’d), news release here, “Warming North Atlantic water tied to heating Arctic, according to new study.”

I have pulled out the key graph — and it is one heck of a Hockey Stick.  It is derived from “planktic foraminifers in a sediment core”:

Temperature reconstructions of upper Atlantic Water in the eastern Fram Strait over the past ~2100 years

AW hockey top

AW hockey bottom

Thin lines are raw data, bold lines are three-point running means….  (C) Summer temperatures at 50-m water depth (red)….  Gray bars mark averages until 1835 CE and 1890 to 2007 CE. Blue line is the normalized Atlantic Water core temperature (AWCT) record … from the Arctic Ocean (1895 to 2002; 6-year averages)….  (D) Summer temperatures (purple) [calculated with a different method]

This astonishing warming in the past century is clearly not, as the anti-science crowd likes to say, some sort of recovery from the so-called Little Ice Age (see “A detailed look at the Little Ice Age“), which, in any case, is barely noticeable in this data.   The lead author, Robert Spielhagen of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences said, “Such a warming of the Atlantic water in the Fram Strait is significantly different from all climate variations in the last 2,000 years.”  The fact is, over 90% of human-caused warming is going into the oceans — and it is melting ice whereever it goes (see “Deep ocean heat is rapidly melting Antarctic ice“).

Air temperatures in Greenland have risen roughly 7 degrees F in the past several decades, thought to be due primarily to an increase in Earth’s greenhouse gases, according to CU-Boulder scientists.

“We must assume that the accelerated decrease of the Arctic sea ice cover and the warming of the ocean and atmosphere of the Arctic measured in recent decades are in part related to an increased heat transfer from the Atlantic,” said Spielhagen.

Here are the abstract and conclusion:

The Arctic is responding more rapidly to global warming than most other areas on our planet. Northward-flowing Atlantic Water [AW] is the major means of heat advection toward the Arctic and strongly affects the sea ice distribution. Records of its natural variability are critical for the understanding of feedback mechanisms and the future of the Arctic climate system, but continuous historical records reach back only ~150 years. Here, we present a multidecadal-scale record of ocean temperature variations during the past 2000 years, derived from marine sediments off Western Svalbard (79°N). We find that early-21st-century temperatures of Atlantic Water entering the Arctic Ocean are unprecedented over the past 2000 years and are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming….

Although we cannot quantify from our data the variability of previous AW inflow to the Arctic by volume, our temperature data series and the above observational link suggest that the modern warm AW inflow (averaged over two to three decades) is anomalous and unique in the past 2000 years and not just the latest in a series of natural multidecadal oscillations. Both effects””a temperature rise as well as a volume transport increase””introduce a larger heat input into the Arctic Ocean. Although there is no direct contact of the AAWL [Arctic Atlantic Water Layer] with the ocean surface in the Arctic, such an increased heat input has far-reaching consequences. The strong AW warming event in the Arctic Ocean in the 1990s caused a shoaling of the AW core and an enhanced heat flux to the surface , concurrent with decreasing sea ice. Recent oceanographic data from the Laptev Sea continental margin indicate the impact of warm AW-related water masses on the shallow (<50 m) shelf, a feature not observed before in a >80-year time series. The data also provide evidence for a significant heat flux to the overlying shelf waters. Even without any modification of the vertical heat transfer processes, the enhanced temperature contrast between the AW and the surface sea water freezing point (increased from ~5 to 7 K as identified here) leads to an increase in the vertical heat flux of ~40%. Any positive-feedback mechanism will magnify the effect of this flux increase on the ice cover. Complementing the strong feedback between ice and atmospheric temperatures, warming of the AW layer, unprecedented in the past 2000 years, is most likely another key element in the transition toward a future ice-free Arctic Ocean.

In September, a first-of-its-kind analysis by an international team of 18 top scientists found “less ice covers the Arctic today than at any time in recent geologic history” and this ice loss isunexplainable by any of the known natural variabilities.”

In November, Rear Admiral David Titley, the Oceanographer of the Navy and the Director of Navy’s Task Force Climate Change told Congress, “the volume of ice as of last September has never been lower”¦in the last several thousand years.”

Arctic sea ice is in the last legs of its death spiral.

Using different data proxies for Arctic temperature itself (rather than the water entering the Arctic), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), came to a roughly similar conclusion two years ago (see Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds):

Arctic temperatures in the 1990s reached their warmest level of any decade in at least 2,000 years, new research indicates. The study, which incorporates geologic records and computer simulations, provides new evidence that the Arctic would be cooling if not for greenhouse gas emissions that are overpowering natural climate patterns.


As with a pride of lions, and a delusion of disinformers, perhaps the grouping should get its own name, like “a team of hockey sticks” (see “The Curious Case of the Hockey Stick that Didn’t Disappear“).

  1. GRL:  “We conclude that the 20th century warming of the incoming intermediate North Atlantic water has had no equivalent during the last thousand years.”
  2. JGR:  “The last decades of the past millennium are characterized again by warm temperatures that seem to be unprecedented in the context of the last 1600 years.”

The bottom line is that The rate of human-driven warming in the last century has exceeded the rate of the underlying natural trend by more than a factor of 10, possibly much more.  And warming this century on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions is projected to cause a rate of warming that is another factor of 5 or more greater than that of the last century.  We are punching the climate beast “” and she ain’t happy about it!


23 Responses to Temperatures of North Atlantic “are unprecedented over the past 2000 years and are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming” — Science

  1. dorlomin says:

    We keep finding all these weather things round the world, you know hotter temperatures. Hmmmm should find a name for lots of warming round the globe.

    Anyone got any suggestions?

  2. Steve Bloom says:

    Joe, remember that striking graphic of mid-Pliocene North Atlantic temps (page 7 here) I’ve been pushing you to post? It’s not going to get any more topical than this.

  3. Villabolo says:

    We keep finding all these weather things round the world, you know hotter temperatures. Hmmmm should find a name for lots of warming round the globe.

    Anyone got any suggestions?

    Planetary coziness?

  4. Michael says:

    Global sea ice area is about to set a record absolute minimum (if not already, the graph doesn’t have much resolution), with both the Arctic and Antarctic below average:

  5. Raul M. says:

    I couldn’t see the canyons of Greenland
    with such a covering of ice. But, now the
    Canyons of Greenland.

  6. Steve Bloom says:

    As to a name for this, I’d go for “clue stick.”

    BTW, Joe, I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here before, but Reto Knutti is campaigning (Mahlstein & Knutti 2011) to have a bunch of the low-sensitivity models dropped from the IPCC model ensemble based in large on their failure to adequately reflect warming in the very same key region. Getting rid of those models of course will raise the sensitivity range.

  7. Mike says:

    Here is one of the causalities.

    Researchers in Alaska have tracked a female polar bear swimming for 232 consecutive hours, during which time she covered 687 kilometers (427 miles) until she finally reached the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. The finding underlines the enormous capacity of polar bears to survive in the water, but also demonstrates the immense cost to them of having to do so for long periods. By the end of the ordeal, the bear had lost 22 percent of her body mass, and her yearling cub had apparently died.

  8. dbmetzger says:

    On the Southern part of the planet…
    Solo Sailor Recounts Grim State of Southern Oceans
    A Canadian sailing in a solo around-the-world race says he is disturbed by the “horrendous” conditions he has encountered in the southern oceans — including the near absence of large sea life.

  9. SovietSunrise says:

    Mainstream Media article related to monster snowstorms.

  10. NeilT says:

    Steve #6,

    “As to a name for this, I’d go for “clue stick.””

    As in “beating them with the”.

    Last year I predicted that when the Arctice sea ice vanished in summer, the denialists would then switch to talking about thickening winter ice and ignore the complete lack of ice in the summer.

    To be honest I think the only way to stop people like Monckton et al, is to make them criminally liable for their disinformation.

    Sadly that breaks covenant with a whole host of freedoms I believe in and would drag science back to the days of Christian Intransigence. Something I don’t want to see.

    No matter how much we beat them with studies which prove what anyone with a marginally open mind could see for themselves; they will never change their mind on this because it suits their political ideology to be opposed to reality.

    The only way around this is to marginalise them and make them irrelevant.

    To me that means a different thing to most climate activists. To me it means that clean energy has to be cheaper than dirty energy. It means that not polluting has to save money for the households. It means that Governments need to commit to NOT taxing clean energy for the next decade whilst NOT raising taxes on existing infrastructure for the NEXT 10 YEARS.

    Market forces work. We know they work. Regulation does not work so well and we know that too. Because people don’t like being regulated but they do like saving money, especially if they see regulation as a tool for someone to force their own agenda on them. The fact that they are also saving a livable habitat for their descendents is, for most people, irrelevant, in the “here and now” struggle to make ends meet and have a quality of life.

  11. jyyh says:

    How do you find some of these scientific articles so fast? Anyway, looks like the warming is appearing there somewhat before than in the instrumental record, which is surprising. But anyway there aren’t instrumental records from those times (1600s-1700s) from around the world, so water movements prior the beginning of a good record might have done that.

  12. max says:

    The current online Economist debate/vote over natural gas vs. Renewables is one of the most high profile in recent times. Please all vote or offer much needed support for the clean energy side of the argument.

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    dbmetzger @ 8

    I call this the crash of nature , yesterday I saw a report about the loss of birds along the coast of Asia, and their rest stop in the Philippines. The numbers there have crashed. I didn’t post it here , because it was just a case of man destroying the places where they once rested.

    the crash of nature

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    dbmetzger @ 8
    I will now read read your link , thanks for posting it. As a witness of the earth I will note it, even though the headline seems like fiction.

  15. Raul M. says:

    Temperatures in Greenland never go above
    0 is different.this year. Weather Channel
    Forecasts temps above 0 every day this

  16. iceman says:

    Michael’s prediction (#4) is a little early. We’re entering an interval of rapid freezing along much of the ice margin in the Arctic, so it’s unlikely to hit a “low high” this year. The Antarctic is more interesting given the rapid melting recently despite relatively cool conditions. With most of the thin ice already gone, though, its graph will likely flatten.
    Although Antarctic sea ice extent has a wider peak-to-trough swing seasonally, the lows in the Arctic show greater variance recently. So the Arctic has more influence on the low points of the anomaly trace (red line) in the Cryosphere Today graph. This value will not likely hit a new low until the next big summer melt up north. As someone (Steve Bloom, I think) observed in a different thread, this occurrence will probably come with the next highly negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation during the northern summer.

  17. Wyoming says:


    Not sure that the data supports your statement. See

    This chart does not show any rapid increase but rather shows the recent trend of freezing to be average to declining from the normal rate. Coupled with the antarctic’s increasing melt rate from normal

    and the fact that we still have about 4 weeks before we reach the normal global minimum and are within 200 sq km of the all time low, I would say that Michael at #4 has a pretty solid chance of being correct.

  18. Fire Mountain says:

    Answer to Villabola, we’ve called it global warming, but that’s only the trigger. We’ve called it climate change, and that is accurate but neutral-seeming. Some call it global weirding, again, highly accurate but a bit too cute. I’m calling it — CLIMATE EXTREMES. Because that’s what it is and that’s where it’s going, faster than most of us can imagine (though the sno-nami waves rolling through the eastern US might be causing people to catch a clue like the news desk at ABC).

    Now some serious questions – Anyone out there have an answer. Fram Strait – Mygawd! – is in the region of the thermohaline sinking, deep water creation. Fresh water from melting ice coming down Fram is, if I’m getting my Earth Systems Science right, just the stuff that freshens the North Atlantic and suppressed the sinking that drives circulation. So warmer water on the Fram means slowing North Atlantic circulation. Right?

    And if that isn’t bad enough, this appears to directly impinge on continental shelf methane hydrate decay, triggering one of the “doomsday devices” locked away in Arctic carbon sinks —

    “Recent oceanographic data from the Laptev Sea continental margin indicate the impact of warm AW-related water masses on the shallow (80-year time series. The data also provide evidence for a significant heat flux to the overlying shelf waters. Even without any modification of the vertical heat transfer processes, the enhanced temperature contrast between the AW and the surface sea water freezing point (increased from ~5 to 7 K as identified here) leads to an increase in the vertical heat flux of ~40%

    I’m wondering how this correlates with late 2009 finding from the same region of the world, “More than 250 plumes of gas bubbles have been discovered emanating from the seabed of the West Spitsbergen continental margin, in a depth range of 150–400 m(492-1,312 feet) . . .” The emissions, mostly methane, came from depths where hydrates are normally stable. “Warming of the northward-flowing West Spitzbergen current by 1°C over the last thirty years is likely to have increased the release of methane from the seabed. . . “
    Graham K. Westbrook et al, “Escape of methane gas from the seabed along the West Spitsbergen continental margin,” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 36, L15608, 5 Pp., 2009

    Joe, someone, please, please tell me I am wrong that this new finding indicates slowing of the North Atlantic circulation or further decay of methane hydrates? Or has the Runaway really started?

  19. Lou Grinzo says:

    For those who like to check graphs of polar ice, the NAO, world temps, etc., may I suggest my “quick graphs” page:

  20. iceman says:

    Thanks Lou! I’m switching over to yours: fewer hits on the Watts ice compendium page.

  21. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Nice work, Lou! Thank you for that. You are bookmarked.

  22. iceman says:

    Wyoming @17, let’s revisit these predictions in a month or so at the ice low in Antarctica and, more tellingly, the Sept low in the Arctic.
    btw I favor graphs with separate traces for multiple years, e.g. AMSR or NORSEX.

  23. Excellent article.
    While global warming is the cause,climate change is the effect.
    Adaptation to global warming and climate change is a response to climate change that seeks to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems to climate change effects. Even if emissions are stabilized relatively soon, climate change and its effects will last many years, and adaptation will be necessary. Climate change adaptation is especially important in developing countries since those countries are predicted to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. That is, the capacity and potential for humans to adapt (called adaptive capacity) is unevenly distributed across different regions and populations, and developing countries generally have less capacity to adapt (Schneider et al., 2007). Adaptive capacity is closely linked to social and economic development (IPCC, 2007). The economic costs of adaptation to climate change are likely to cost billions of dollars annually for the next several decades, though the amount of money needed is unknown. Adaptation will be more difficult for larger magnitudes and higher rates of climate change.
    Another policy response to climate change, known as climate change mitigation(Verbruggen, 2007). is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or enhance the removal of these gases from the atmosphere (enhancing carbon sinks). Even the most effective reductions in emissions, however, would not prevent further climate change impacts, making the need for adaptation unavoidable (Klein et al., 2007). In a literature assessment, Klein et al. (2007) assessed options for adaptation. They concluded, with very high confidence, that in the absence of mitigation efforts, the effects of climate change would reach such a magnitude as to make adaptation impossible for some natural systems, e.g., ecosystems. For human systems, the economic and social costs of unmitigated climate change would be very high.
    Because of the current and projected climate disruption precipitated by high levels of greenhouse gas emissions by the industrialized nations, adaptation is a necessary strategy at all scales to complement climate change mitigation efforts because we cannot be sure that all climate change can be mitigated. And indeed the odds are quite high that in the long run more warming is inevitable, given the high level of GHGs in the atmosphere, and the (several decade) delay between emissions and impact.
    Adaptation has the potential to reduce adverse impacts of climate change and to enhance beneficial impacts, but will incur costs and will not prevent all damages. Extremes, variability, and rates of change are all key features in addressing vulnerability and adaptation to climate
    Human and natural systems will to some degree adapt autonomously to climate change. Planned adaptation can supplement autonomous adaptation, though there are more options and greater possibility for offering incentives in the case of adaptation of human systems than in the case of adaptation to protect natural systems.

    Scheraga and Grambsch identify 9 fundamental principles to be considered when designing adaptation policy.
    1. The effects of climate change vary by region.
    2. The effects of climate change may vary across demographic groups.
    3. Climate change poses both risks and opportunities.
    4. The effects of climate change must be considered in the context of multiple stressors and factors, which may be as important to the design of adaptive responses as the sensitivity of the change.
    5. Adaptation comes at a cost.
    6. Adaptive responses vary in effectiveness, as demonstrated by current efforts to cope with climate variability.
    7. The systemic nature of climate impacts complicates the development of adaptation policy.
    8. Maladaptation can result in negative effects that are as serious as the climate-induced effects that are being avoided.
    9. Many opportunities for adaptation make sense whether or not the effects of climate change are realized.(Source: Wikipedia).

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India